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  • John Whitehead

Pavlov's Dogs

I joined the US Navy two months after my seventeenth birthday. I went in young and filled with independent thoughts and ideas. After ten weeks of Boot Camp, I came out reformed and reshaped into what the Navy wanted me to be.


What happened there is something I have never forgotten.


The ability to strip a person down and rebuild them is something most of us would not think possible. Not only is this possible, given the right circumstances, it will and does happen all the time.


The individualism we hold so dear is far more fragile than we might think.


As with Pavlov’s Dogs, we too can be conditioned to change our behavior. The ringing of a bell, in the case of the dogs, had the same effect as the repetitious droning of the media and talking heads in our world today.


The irony is, while being conditioned, people feel their thoughts are independent and individual. We must be aware of this if we are to maintain any semblance of who we are.

The reshaping of our minds and attitudes is done with purpose and precision. The results, as with my time in Boot Camp, is a change we never thought possible. Even the mentally strongest among us are unable to avoid this Pavlovian approach to the conditioning of our minds when it is taking place.


The ability to manipulate people is nothing new. It has been taking place since the Garden. Our willingness to submit to this manipulation is also nothing new. Amazingly, as with “Pavlov’s Dogs”, we are not even aware this manipulation is taking place.


The ability to shape the thinking of people is a skill that is fraught with danger when these same people realize what is happening to them. In the military, once removed from the confines and routines of Boot Camp, you almost immediately began to realize how you had been changed and many rebelled against those changes.


Awareness is the antidote to preventing a conditioned response. We must realize the noise being used to illicit the conditioned response required is constant and purposeful. When we do, the independent thoughts and ideas of the individual will begin to drown out the noise.

My hope in writing this is to awaken the hearts and minds of anyone who might read it to the possibility, they too can be like “Pavlov’s Dogs” and be conditioned to react and respond each time someone rings a bell.


Then, perhaps we all will be able to see clearly how we are being manipulated before it is too late!


Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.



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